Everything here is so, so clean. It is almost as if surfaces only exist in order that they might be disinfected.
The English joke that you should throw litter directly onto the street to keep cleaners employed could never work here. There is no littering and still you see more cleaning in public spaces than anywhere I have ever been.
Cleaning of public stairwells:
Cleaning of the Library:
Cleaning of the underground escalators. Look at this technique. It’s a double cleaning, two handed, duo-cloth treatment in combination with the electric movement of the stairs. This woman went up and down the escalator, for longer than I was prepared to stay, with a cloth in each hand, touching the brushed aluminium with her dusters.
And they are all wearing really cute uniforms too, which, despite their dirty work are always very very clean.
And when you have cleaned the escalator, then you can clean yourself. This week I went to the hot springs in Moriya for a series of soaks. Last time I was in Japan, a long-standing family friend took me to the hot springs in the mountains on the outskirts of Kanazawa on the west coast of Japan. That was an exceptional experience full of serenity in a very special place, a place special for the Japanese too. The hot springs in Moriya however, are just where tired businessmen hang out. (Men and women are strictly separated throughout, so my experience was entirely with the men.) You arrive and as with almost everywhere, you remove your shoes and place them in a locker. You then go to a vending machine and buy tickets for your entry and anything else you might need: towels, toothbrush, combs etc.
Unlike in the UK, where you might go for a soak in a public bath to get clean, you go for a soak in a hot spring after you have thoroughly scrubbed yourself. Hot springs are for relaxing not for getting rid of your muck. And unlike some places I have been to in the UK, everything is, yes you guessed it, very very clean. When I think about the Seymour Leisure Centre in Marylebone, I wince.
There are a series of pools of different shapes, sizes, temperatures and materials. You can, for example, select whether or not you want to relax in a big clay tub, a big wooden tub, or a big bamboo tub. There were two new novelties for me. The first was the salt sauna, in which you scoop up a handful of salt from the massive urn in the centre of the steaming room and rub it all over your body. The salt makes you sweat more, thus cleaning those already super clean pores. The second was the electricity bath, in which pulses of electricity dart through the water, giving you a series of mini shocks and removing muscle aches. Having spent an hour or so jumping in and out of various relaxing positions you then head off for something to eat in the restaurant.
Food continues to be a highlight. This week’s additions include ‘kaki’ or persimmon, the delicious plump orange coloured fruit that are falling off trees all over the place at the moment but the main event can be condensed into two words: horse sashimi. If that isn’t registering then what about: raw pony. One thing about professing a love of all the culinary delights in Japan is that your hosts try to find out how high you might vault. This week the bar was elevated with the aforementioned uncooked steed. This wasn’t some sautéd steak cheval with onion gravy but simply pieces of delicately cut meat. Not that the dainty, shimmering red slivers of flesh on the raku leaf looked much like a horse but it was that word – horse – which had the potential to, erm, stick in one’s throat. (There was an old woman who ate a horse. She’s dead of course.)
“So if it is uncooked”, I said to my dinner companion, “it must be very fresh, which means that this horse might have been munching on hay yesterday.” To which I received the simple reply: “Yes, probably”.
I think I still prefer my little pony to be cantering around a field of clover than slipping down my alimentary canal but nevertheless, horse sashimi is quite tasty.
And as I prefer my horses in pasture, I also prefer my flowers in gardens. This was confirmed by a visit to Shogo Kariyazaki’s flower arrangement extravaganza in Meguro Gajoen in Tokyo. Shogo Kariyazaki is a flower-arranging phenomenon in Japan. This is what he looks like:
This exhibition was a series of about twenty or so giant (like 4 meter diameter) arrangements in the rooms of the old part of Meguro Gajoen, an old style Japanese hotel built in the late 1920s. The displays consisted of dead trees, live flowers, a lot of giant beans and various poles painted in primary colours that kind of looked like a collapsed Mondrian.
What was really odd, is that at the entrance to the exhibition, which was absolutely heaving with women of a certain age, there were literally hundreds of bouquets of flower arrangements from celebrity friends, that had been given to Shogo Kariyazaki congratulating him on his opening. It seemed to me a bit like giving a master carpenter a wooden spoon, or a ceramicist a pinch pot.
The real reason I was advised to go to the show was that it was an opportunity to see the rooms of Meguro Gajoen that are normally not accessible to the public. These are incredibly beautiful, hand painted and hand carved tatami rooms, with the kind of scenes Japan has become famous for in the west, cherry blossom in spring, Mount Fuji in winter, women in kimono, ornamental fans, and delicate fruits. They were exceptionally done and they gave the floral presentations quite a lot of competition. In my view, there was no doubt about what won. It struck me here, more than ever before, that the grotesque is only a short step away from the beautiful.
The realisation of my own exhibition came closer this week as my condensed garbage requests were, finally, granted. Mizuki, the Director of ARCUS breathed a giant sigh of relief as he came to my studio to tell me. In brief: I plan to build a library. On one side there will be an archive of all the reading material thrown out by the city on a single day; on the other will be an archive of all the garbage thrown out by the city library in a week. The piece aims to comment on the way in which items are judged as being worthy of preserving or suitable for disposal. Material that is institutionalised and made public or conversely is thrown out by private individuals into a civic garbage system. Mottainai!
Takashi, the ARCUS technical manager, drove me to Joyful Honda, the vast series of warehouses on the outskirts of Moriya, to look at building materials. Those of you that have been following my blog might recall my unabashed pleasure at Tokyu Hands, the shop in Shibuya that sells anything. Well if Tokyu Hands sells anything, then Joyful Honda sells everything. No, I mean it. It literally sells everything.
As we entered one of the massive aircraft hanger type warehouses, I couldn’t help but have the gospel classic ‘Joyful, joyful’ (made famous by Sister Act 2) accompany my mind-boggling journey around the store.
Joyful, joyful Lord we adore thee,
God of glory, Lord of Love.
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee,
Healthy as the sun above.
Joyful, joyful Honda indeed! So, does it really sell everything? Yes. I really think it does.
What about umbrellas?
Yes, of course; joyful, joyful.
My toilet is a bit stinky, do you have anything that might make it smell nice?
Just take a look at the range; joyful, joyful.
I’m going to do something manual and I need some worker gloves.
Find your size; joyful, joyful.
But do you have hard hats?
I’m looking for a tap that is shaped like a bird, I bet you don’t have that.
What kind of bird? Joyful, joyful.
I want some paper bags of different shapes and colours.
Joyful, joyful. Take your pick.
Do you have a funnel?
What kind do you need? Joyful, joyful.
My pottery wheel has just broken and I need a replacement.
I want to carve an object out of a piece of Yew.
How much do you need? Joyful, joyful.
What about sticky backed plastic? Do you have that?
What colour? Joyful, joyful.
I need some glass vials for my chemistry experiments.
Of course you do. Here they are. Joyful, joyful.
But do you have a European door with stained glass insert?
For that, you will need to go to Joyful Honda 2. Joyful, joyful.
And if you want plants, you can go to the Joyful Honda Garden Centre, and if you want pets, you can go to Joyful Honda Pet World, and if you want to eat you can go to Joyful Honda Supermarket. Joyful, joyful.
Even my ability to shop was stretched when faced by the monstrous choice of EVERYTHING. I think I would rather take some exercise. Exercise? Ah, joyful, joyful.